The Unlikeliest Role Model
I’ve never celebrated Women’s History Month. As Fajr Muhammad mentioned last week, to me, every month is Women’s History Month and my education about female leaders and pioneers wasn’t lacking as I grew up. Whether it was in a classroom or a casual conversation at home, women were never short on praise and attention in my community.
The only problem I ever took issue with was the type of woman who was often lauded with praise. I come from a long line of women who didn’t fit the stereotype of the “respectable lady.” My mother, a workaholic feminist who dares to believe that a woman deserves the same pay as a man for doing the same job, was also a teenage mom. My grandmother was overweight, mellow and a great caregiver, but she played cards every week and cursed enough to make a sailor blush.
My great-grandmother, who used to watch me after school in the second grade, may have looked like a genteel, old half-breed with a soft smile and perfect memory, but there’s nary a picture of her in existence without a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Big Mama, my great-great-grandmother, was a domestic for 45 years in Mississippi and Indiana. She raised 6 kids and was financially savvy enough to afford a burial plot in Indianapolis’ posh Crown Hill Cemetery. But in her youth, she was also a lover of late night juke joints and parties ‘til dawn.
As you can see, I come from a long line of women behaving “badly.” Not a one of them are lazy, simple or self-pitying. Instead, they’re stubborn, clever and sarcastic. Which may explain why I tend to respect female celebrities who exhibit the same characteristics. The women I admire are often the ones trashed for holding unpopular opinions, behaving in an ostentatious or unladylike manner, or daring to be themselves when the world is telling them to be anything but.
Yet, I still hold them high esteem. Maybe it’s in my genes, but I don’t apologize for appreciating in others what I would hope someone, someday will appreciate in me. When it comes to my freelance business, I feel it’s especially important to maintain my convictions, including admiring the unlikeliest of role models.
America has a love/hate relationship with Whoopi, which may be why I respect her so much. I may not agree with her all the time, but Whoopi has accomplished something I can only hope to achieve: a diverse career that suits her skills set, her interests and her lifestyle.
While holding her ground in her hometown of New York, Whoopi has been an author, radio host, talk show host, TV presenter, and actor on stage, film and TV. And she manages to do all of this while staying true to herself and remaining comfortable in her own skin. Wearing her natural hair before it became all the rage, Whoopi has refused to let others define her and, at the end of the day, pursues a career that ultimately makes her happy.
Miss Keke may be known for bringing the crazy to the reality show world that is in no way short on crazy, but I’d be lying if I said that the behind-the-scenes look at her empire doesn’t make me respect and admire her. Yes, she’s a former model and co-creator of one the biggest Hip Hop brands in fashion, but she’s also one hell of a businesswoman.
Kimora knows to surround herself with a great team of incredibly talented people and then hold them to the same high standards that have always been expected of her. Sure, she’s suffered setbacks, but she’s never rested on her laurels or became content to have someone else provide for her. It’s her ambition, resilience and strategic approach to an industry full of imitators that leaves me admiring her more.
Michelle Rodriguez is an activist and actress that garners an unusual amount of contempt for someone who’s never been embroiled in a major scandal. She’s brash, unpredictable and opinionated. And while some women may receive applause for that moxie, Michelle simply is not one of them.
Instead, she dares to evolve right in front of our eyes, unapologetically. She’s not interested in being a role model. She’s only interested in following her own path, which happens to include playing film and TV roles where she’s not afraid to display her no-nonsense attitude. She’s a real life Vasquez, a diamond in the rough. And every day I try to approach my career with same level of fearlessness and unabated sense of self. I know first hand that it’s not easy, even when you’re not in the public eye. All the more reason for me to respect Michelle’s chosen path.
As you can see, I’m not one to admire the well-behaved, picture-perfect women in the spotlight who try their best to make sure no one ever sees them stumble. No. I look to those who make history by showing us their flaws, as well as their beauty. Never apologizing for being who they are, I adore those who never quite receive the respect I feel they deserve.
It’s easy to place good girls on a pedestal like Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep or Tina Fey. I can even understand admiring people who’ve achieved fame and fortune by masking their limitations with flash and fireworks like Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez or Katy Perry. But that’s not for me. I need substance that comes naturally and the willingness to be unpopular because that’s simply who you are.
I owe it to my career, my business and myself to be willing to step out on a limb and say I will be a success, but only on my own terms. I’m not a revolutionary like Angela Davis or a brilliant mind like Madam Curie, but I think every woman’s true worth is measured in her ability to not let others define her. And what a better time to assert your worth than during Women’s History Month.
Who are some of the women you admire?
Do you see any of their character traits in you?